Looking for a way to attract choice riders? How about increasing public awareness of the services you provide? What about increasing the public's use of transit so there are reduced emissions in the environment and less parking problems in the community? One way to do it is to offer some free rides. With some thought, planning and a bit of creativity, there are a variety of ways to provide free transit.
Fare-free all the time sounds great on paper with no farebox issues, great public image and thoughts of an abundant use of public transportation by the community; they are all wonderful things to dream about. However, various studies and reports have shown that fare-free transit isn't feasible for many agencies. Increased ridership creating too high of operational costs for an agency to maintain and increased criminal activity aren't things one would want to encounter.
Looking for the happy medium, events, promotions or specific routes might be the place to look. These special fare-free zones are targeted at riders you want riding your system and it provides benefits one would hope for with fare-free transit without the negative impact. Several different offerings are looked at to see what various programs can provide.
A small start to fare-free transit could be a one-time promotion. Less planning than creating a permanent change to the agency's routes or structure, special events can generate a lot of buzz and provide positive news coverage of the area while attracting some choice riders. Anniversary celebrations and new service offerings often create a perfect opportunity for such offerings but with some creativity, other options are available.
Curb Your Car Month and World Car Free Day were the events that sparked creativity from the Utah Transit Authority (UTA). First Trip Free was a promotion on Sept. 22 that was part of the larger Curb Your Car Month Campaign in observance of Curb Your Car Month and World Car Free Day.
"The purpose of this promotion was to help car commuters try transit for the first time," Shaina Miron, Rideshare specialist for UTA and coordinator of the event, explains. "We aimed to raise public awareness about the benefits of mass transportation, to overcome some of the barriers first time riders worry about and to decrease the number of commuters who drive to work alone." She adds that larger goals were to increase UTA ridership and to improve air quality.
Developing the right program for the agency had to be carefully thought out. Miron states, "Many of our buses and trains run near capacity, a free service had to be implemented very carefully." The program offered people that normally drive to work to try riding UTA for free. The first trip and dedicated trip planning was offered if they called the customer service center. "We took calls from about 45 people who were driving to work and had never taken transit before," Miron says.
Communication was important to the successful execution. "We had to get approval from multiple stakeholders including marketing, customer service, finance and the four business unit general managers," Miron explains. "Another challenge was clearly communicating to the media how the offer worked so that customers didn't expect to ride for free on Sept. 22."
The promotion was a success in terms of public relations and return on investment Miron reports. "We mailed out 45 day passes worth $3.00 each at a total cost to the agency of $135.00.
"Long term, if only 10 percent of these 45 individuals decided to take transit on a regular basis, in one year UTA would realize $2,700.00 in additional revenue." She adds, "Being very optimistic, if all 45 individuals switched to transit, in one year they would save a total of more than 5.6 tons of air pollution."
More than 15 minutes of positive news coverage was generated for Curb Your Car Month and First Trip Free was an integral part of that. "The First Trip Free event was an essential, attention-getting component for the whole campaign," Miron asserts.